Mexifornia, Five Years Later
Victor Davis Hanson
The flood of illegal immigrants into California has made things worse than I foresaw.
In the Spring 2002 issue of City Journal, I wrote an essay about growing up in the central San Joaquin Valley and witnessing firsthand, especially over the last 20 years, the ill effects of illegal immigration (City Journalâ€™s editors chose the title of the piece: â€śDo We Want Mexifornia?â€ť). Controversy over my blunt assessment of the disaster of illegal immigration from Mexico led to an expanded memoir, Mexifornia, published the following year by Encounter Press.
Mexifornia came out during the ultimately successful campaign to recall California governor Gray Davis in autumn 2003. A popular public gripe was that the embattled governor had appeased both employers and the more radical Hispanic politicians of the California legislature on illegal immigration. And indeed Davis had signed legislation allowing driverâ€™s licenses for illegal aliens that both houses of state government had passed. So it was no wonder that the book sometimes found its way into both the low and high forms of the political debate. On the Internet, a close facsimile of a California driverâ€™s license circulated, with a picture of a Mexican bandit (the gifted actor Alfonso Bedoya of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), together with a demeaning height (5â€™4â€ť), weight (â€śtoo muchâ€ť), and sex (â€śmuchoâ€ť) given. â€śMexiforniaâ€ť was emblazoned across the top where â€śCaliforniaâ€ť usually is stamped on the license.
In such a polarized climate, heated debates and several radio interviews followed, often with the query, â€śWhy did you have to write this book?â€ť The Left saw the bookâ€™s arguments and its titleâ€”Mexifornia was originally a term of approbation used by activists buoyed by Californiaâ€™s changing demographyâ€”as unduly harsh to newcomers from Mexico. The Right saw the book as long-overdue attention to a scandal ignored by the mainstream Republican Party.
Fast-forward nearly five years, and the national climate has radically changed, so much so that the arguments of Mexiforniaâ€”close the borders, return to the melting pot, offer earned citizenship to most aliens of long residence in exchange for acceptance of English and American cultureâ€”seem tame today, if not passĂ©. In 2002, when I wrote the original City Journal essay, no one thought that the U.S. Congress would vote to erect a wall. Today there is rumbling that the signed legislation entails only 700 miles of fencing instead of spanning the entire 1,950-mile border.
Deportation was once an unimaginable response to the problem of the 11 million here illegally. Now its practicality, rather than its morality, appears the keener point of contention. And the concerted effort by Chicano activists to drive from popular parlance the descriptive term â€śillegal alienâ€ť in favor of the politically correct, but imprecise and often misleading â€śundocumented workerâ€ť has largely failed. Similar efforts to demonize opponents of open borders as â€śanti-immigrantâ€ť or â€śnativistâ€ť have had only a marginal effect in stifling debate, as has the deliberate effort to blur illegal and legal immigration. The old utopian talk of a new borderless zone of dual cultures, spreading on both sides of a disappearing boundary, has given way to a reexamination of NAFTA and its facilitation of greater cross-border flows of goods, servicesâ€”and illegal aliens and drugs.
So why has the controversy over illegal immigration moved so markedly to the right?
We return always to the question of numbers. While it is true that no one knows exactly how many are here illegally from Mexico and Latin America, both sides in the debate often accept as reasonable estimates of 11 to 12 million illegalsâ€”with an additional 500,000 to 1 million arriving per year. Given porous borders, such guesses about the number of illegal aliens in the United States are outdated almost as soon as they are published. It is plausible, then, that there may be an additional 3 to 4 million illegal aliens here who were not here when the City Journal â€śMexiforniaâ€ť piece appeared.
The result of such staggering numbers is that aliens now donâ€™t just cluster in the American Southwest but frequently appear at Home Depot parking lots in the Midwest, emergency rooms in New England, and construction sites in the Carolinas, making illegal immigration an American, rather than a mere Californian or Arizonan, concern.
Indeed, we forget how numbers are at the crux of the entire debate over illegal immigration. In the 1970s, perhaps a few million illegals resided in the United States, and their unassimilated presence went largely unnoticed. Most Americans felt that the formidable powers of integration and popular culture would continue to incorporate any distinctive ethnic enclave, as they had so successfully done with the past generations that arrived en masse from Europe, Asia, and Latin America. But when more than 10 million fled Mexico in little over a decadeâ€”the great majority poor, without English, job skills, a high school education, and legalityâ€”entire apartheid communities in the American Southwest began springing up.
During the heyday of multiculturalism and political correctness in the 1980s, the response of us, the hosts, to this novel challenge was not to insist upon the traditional assimilation of the newcomer but rather to accommodate the illegal alien with official Spanish-language documents, bilingual education, and ethnic boosterism in our media, politics, and education. These responses only encouraged more illegals to come, on the guarantee that their material life could be better and yet their culture unchanged in the United States. We now see the results. Los Angeles is today the second-largest Mexican city in the world; one out of every ten Mexican nationals resides in the United States, the vast majority illegally.
more at: Mexifornia, Five Years Later by Victor Davis Hanson, City Journal Winter 2007